Preview: Fire get another shot against Orlando Saturday on CSN after recent draw

Preview: Fire get another shot against Orlando Saturday on CSN after recent draw


In one sense it shows how far the Chicago Fire have come that the players and coaches are looking at a draw on the road against a team in a playoff spot as a disappointment.

That’s how the Fire are looking at the 0-0 draw at Orlando on June 4. Granted, the context of the Lions being down a man for over an hour and finishing with only nine players explains the disappointment.

Still, the Fire are hoping to correct that result when Orlando comes to Toyota Park on Saturday. Coverage begins on CSN at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

“It was just a good opportunity for us to get three points in that game,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We feel like they actually took something from us so I think the guys are aware of that, that we have another opportunity to win (against) our opponent from the conference and a very good team. We have to be at our best. This game is very important.”

The Fire (9-3-4, 31 points) enter with an eight-game unbeaten run in MLS play. Orlando (7-5-5, 26 points) has one win in its past 10 games and has drawn three straight.

The Lions head to Toyota Park without Cyle Larin. The third-year pro has 39 goals in his career and had eight in 15 games before getting suspended following a DUI arrest. The absence of its leading scorer is obviously a big loss for Orlando.

“Obviously they’re going through a little bit of a difficult stretch right now in terms of just off the field stuff and in terms of how the results on the field aren’t great,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We know they’re a good team though. They’re a dangerous team. They won plenty of games already this year and they have a lot of dangerous players.”

Goalkeeper Jorge Bava is out with what is being called left elbow tendinitis, but David Accam figures to be returning. Accam sat out both the U.S. Open Cup game at Saint Louis FC and the game last Saturday at New England. Both of those games were on turf, but Paunovic said his absence was not related to the turf.

“He didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game and we always want to be smart with how we manage the minutes and the load for the guys,” Paunovic said of Accam.

Accam was in training this week.

Chicago Fire vs. Orlando City

TV: CSN Chicago (Spanish language broadcast with Hector Lozano and Raquel Ortiz on CSN+)

When: Coverage starts at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

Records: Fire (9-3-4, 31 points), Orlando (7-5-5, 26 points)

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon


Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

If you were looking for entertainment, goals, plot twists and storylines, the Fire’s season opener had all of those boxes checked.

What it didn’t have was even a point for the hosts against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Toyota Park.

The first half showed a Fire team which very much looked like the “incomplete” roster that general manager Nelson Rodriguez referenced just before the season. KC led 2-0 and the Fire failed to get a shot on target, showing a lack of chance creation and any semblance of a dangerous attack.

The second half showed a Fire attack which was capable of turning the heat up on the visitors, but also a defense which couldn’t defend. Sporting's 4-3 win revealed that there’s plenty of work to do for the Fire to resemble the team that finished third in the MLS regular season last year.

“Especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that had an advantage that they had one competition game before us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half, but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was a positive.”

However, Paunovic wasn’t about to let his team off the hook by only speaking about positives.

“What we learned today is that we have to get better on every side of the game and in every aspect of the game,” he said. “We are not there. We didn’t have a good game. I think overall a lot of innocent and naive mistakes.”

After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Fire revved things up in the final 25 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger keyed the first goal with a slick assist to newcomer Aleksandar Katai. Nemanja Nikolic showed the scoring instincts and finishing ability that won him the league scoring title a year ago by scoring two more goals to give the Fire the lead in the 82nd minute.

Then it all fell apart, with two KC goals within four minutes of Nikolic giving the Fire the lead. Dax McCarty, your thoughts?

“You’re 10 minutes away from the headline and the storyline being Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2 and yet here we are sitting here, somehow losing that game, which is insane,” McCarty said. “It’s totally insane.”

The defensive struggles, which Paunovic pointed out mirrored last year’s early playoff exit in a 4-0 loss, will need to get resolved internally. Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster all started on a competent defense last year and McCarty and Schweinsteiger helped play damage control in midfield. This isn’t what the weakness of the team was supposed to be yet after one game, it’s all anyone on the team could talk about.

“We gave up four goals,” Kappelhof said. “That’s not good. Simple.”

While more additions may be coming in-season, as Rodriguez has mentioned, and injuries haven’t allowed the Fire to start 2018 fresh, this game wasn’t a good sign for what’s to come for the 2018 Fire. A lack of any offensive creation in the first half and a lack of defensive concentration, as Paunovic put it, throughout the game showed a team that has plenty of pock-marks currently.

“We don’t know how to defend, quite frankly," McCarty said. "From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. A lot of things to learn."

The good news is even if the Fire take some time to correct the errors from Saturday’s season opener, MLS is a forgiving league. A majority of the league, 12 of 23 teams, makes the playoffs and league-wide parity means teams can go through slumps and still end in good standing. A year ago, the Fire lost six games out of seven and still had the third best record in the league. It’s OK if the team takes time to iron out some organizational issues defensively, just don’t take too long.